Biodiversity Hotspots

pp 311-332


Status and Threats in the Dynamic Landscapes of Northern Australia’s Tropical Rainforest Biodiversity Hotspot: The Wet Tropics

  • Nigel E. StorkAffiliated withDepartment of Resource Management and Geography, School of Land and Environment, University of Melbourne Email author 
  • , Steve GoosemAffiliated withWet Tropics Management Authority
  • , Stephen M. TurtonAffiliated withSchool of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University

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Tropical rainforests throughout the world are highly contested landscapes as governments and the commercial sector seek to increase economic benefits from them. Major threats include logging, both legal and illegal, fire and general encroachment through increased access. Australia’s rainforests comprise a miniscule proportion of this total but are vitally important for their unique biodiversity. The largest fragment of tropical rainforest in Australia occurs as a narrow strip along the east coast from 15°30′S to almost 19°25′S and covers approximately two million hectares. Such is the biological significance of the largest section of rainforest, the so called Wet Tropics, that it was inscribed as the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area in 1988. This area forms a small part of the recently recognised Forests of East Australia biodiversity hotspot. European settlement has brought about radical change to the Wet Tropics, displacing traditional management by Indigenous Australians. In the last 50 years, our understanding of the region and the threats to it has increased enormously. Logging has ceased, yet threats from invasive species, internal fragmentation and linear infrastructure are still apparent. Climate change looms as a source of a range of threats that the Wet Tropics is ill prepared to face.